This week U.S. Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) introduced the Hemp Economic Mobilization Plan (HEMP) Act, a piece of legislation seeking to address concerns that many hemp operators feel have hindered the industrial hemp industry in the United States. This is a significant piece of legislation that signals vast support for the nascent, but expanding industrial hemp industry in the U.S. Senate, which at present contains a Republican majority.
The Act has four features. It amends the definition of industrial hemp from cannabis with a THC content below 0.3 percent up to one percent. It requires the testing of hemp-derived products rather than the hemp flower or the plant itself. It also requires the inclusion of a seed certificate document when transporting plant materials. This would eliminate law enforcement interference in the transport of lawful hemp material between the states and across the United States. And it creates transparency by defining a margin of error in hemp testing.
While these measures clean up certain issues surrounding testing, they also present some challenges. Let’s tackle likely the largest piece of this bill, the shift from 0.3 to one percent allowable THC content.
The European Union recently aligned itself with the United States regarding the 0.3 percent THC standard. Other countries around the world, particularly those in Latin America, have enacted one percent or greater THC allowable. That’s largely a reflection of conditions in tropical environments, where cannabis plants tend to naturally exceed 0.3 percent THC or require other specific genetics to thrive in such climates.
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Since the passage of the 2014 Farm Bill, U.S. hemp operators, from farmers to processors, have worked to perfect the use of less than 0.3 percent THC for all uses of the industrial hemp plant. This includes refining the extraction capabilities for hemp-derived cannabinoids and utilizing the fiber and grain of the plant.
Seed companies and plant breeders have worked to develop genetics that test consistently in compliance with current THC standards. In addition, we’ve adapted technologies to maximize the 0.3 percent or below for the maximum utilization of the plant. There are certified registered genetics across the United States that consistently test below 0.3 percent that deliver the highest yield under those standards. They work in conjunction with the technologies that create materials valuable to farmers and multiple industries.
For six years, the United States has made the current industrial hemp standards work. That’s not to say that there aren’t ample cautionary tales of industry operators who have been burned and lost huge sums of money by genetics that have tested hot. And it’s not just farmers. There are horror stories industry-wide. But the industry has also adapted and largely overcome these challenges in recent years.
Consider this – what happens if plant material exceeds 0.3 percent? It’s deemed marijuana, presently classified at the federal level as a Schedule 1 substance. Therefore, plant material from other countries with higher than 0.3 percent THC, it deemed marijuana and illegal. Nations that continue to enact laws above 0.3 percent for these plants, even if they’re not intoxicating or psychoactive, like CBD, would be deemed marijuana derivatives. At present, those extracts are not allowed presently to be imported into the United States.
With this in mind, the 0.3 percent THC standard may actually offer U.S. hemp growers a competitive advantage. Not just because of our advanced extraction and processing technologies, but because our current standards keep Latin American-grown hemp, which I mentioned previously is widely allowed to have up to one percent THC, barred from entering the U.S. market.
In addition to potentially eliminating competitive advantage for American farmers, raising the 0.3 percent THC limit may further blur the line between industrial hemp and marijuana. Federal regulatory agencies are yet to even introduce final policy frameworks for our existing industry. We simply aren’t in a position as a country to muddy the waters.
We’re making great strides with cannabis reform around the world and especially in the United States. There’s a lot of promise with the recent passage of the MORE Act in the House of Representatives and the momentum coming from that with the new administration taking office in January of 2021. Blurring the lines between marijuana and industrial hemp may exacerbate what’s already a major political divide in the U.S. That divide is also representative of who supports hemp and who supports marijuana. A lot of these things come down along party lines.
Blurring these lines could stifle the progress we’ve made and lose various participants. At present Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who unequivocally supports industrial hemp, does not support marijuana in any form. We don’t want politics to dictate the success of the cannabis or industrial hemp industries.
It’s always rewarding to see support for the U.S. hemp industry from political figures federal level. It’s what has gotten the industry this far and will be necessary for the continued growth and prosperity of American hemp commerce. While the HEMP Act promises to remove barriers to the industry’s growth, its passage we’ll likely have its own obstacles to overcome.